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cat reunion
Posted January 11, 2021 | 2:55 PM

Cat Reunion Latest Example of County's Effort to Keep Pets with Owners

Special PRC Team helps find solutions that result in happy endings

Alecia Peters smiled as she watched her son and daughter hug the family's two cats, Hero and Leo.
"We appreciate the early Christmas present,'' she said.

The gift in this case was the unexpected reunion with Hero and Leo less than a week before Christmas. The two male cats had developed severe medical problems and, after spending several thousand dollars on veterinary care with no end in sight, the family had made the difficult decision to surrender Hero and Leo to the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center in early December.

Before this year, the story might not have had a happy ending. The Pet Resource Center takes in thousands of cats each year, and adult male cats with serious medical problems that can only be resolved through expensive surgery are difficult candidates for rehoming.

This summer, though, the PRC created a special team of employees that work with residents who are thinking about surrendering their dog or cat. The goal is simple: Try to find a solution that would allow the owners to keep their pets or, alternatively, to find another good home for the dog or cat that doesn't require an extended stay at the pet shelter.

The reasons someone might look to give up their pets vary widely. Maybe there's a behavior problem: A dog is too rambunctious and won't walk on a leash, or a new cat is having trouble acclimating with an established pet in the household. Maybe the owners can't afford pet food that month, or a pet has a medical problem that exceeds the family's ability to pay.

The PRC team works with the owner to analyze each situation and come up with potential solutions. The PRC has options to help with many of the cases: a pet food pantry to assist with short-term needs, a behavior team that can help with dog or cat behavior, and a long list of local animal rescue groups that can help provide resources or find homes.

The success rate so far has been gratifying: By early December, the Pet Support team had helped more than 700 pets brought in for surrender to the shelter to instead stay with their owners.

In the case of Hero and Leo, the solution was for the Pet Resource Center to take ownership of the two cats, then reach out to Rescue Cats of Florida, one of its most trusted rescue partners. Rescue Cats of Florida investigated the situation and reached out to veterinarian Stephanie Sabshin, who agreed to do the surgery at a steep discount at her veterinary practice, Harmony Vet Care. Rescue Cats of Florida paid the bill, then reached out to Alecia and told her the good news.

On Saturday, Dec. 19, Alicia brought her two teenage children to the PetSmart in Valrico to meet Jeanine Cohen, the director of Rescue Cats of Florida. The children each brought a basket of pet supplies; they thought they were just there to show their appreciation for the rescue group having arranged successful surgery for Hero and Leo.

Instead, the kids were told they would be able to bring Hero and Leo back home, making for an emotional reunion and a very wonderful Christmas present indeed.

Photo: Alecia Peters, second from right, and her two children happily celebrate their reunion with the family's two cats, Hero and Leo. On the left is veterinarian Stephanie Sabshin, who took care of the cats' medical needs so they could be reunited with the family.

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